What is causing colds and viruses to appear particularly severe at this time?

Experiencing a persistent cold or a recurring virus that just won't go away? With winter being a prime time for illnesses, it seems like everyone is grappling with symptoms such as sniffles, coughs in meetings, or being confined to bed. Two NHS GPs shed light on the reasons behind this phenomenon.

Dr. Hana Patel, an NHS GP and medico-legal expert witness, attributes the surge in infections to recent cold weather and increased indoor socializing before Christmas. This has facilitated the spread of flu, COVID-19, and other infections, leading to a higher incidence of illnesses. The combination of various viruses circulating and the cold weather creates an ideal environment for more intense sickness.

Dr. Patel explains that exposure to multiple bacteria or viruses, coupled with the impact of cold weather on our immune cells, contributes to heightened illness during the winter months. While the cold itself doesn't cause colds, it can weaken our resistance to them. Additionally, certain viruses, like rhinoviruses causing the common cold, may replicate more effectively in colder temperatures.

Dr. Dave Nichols, an NHS GP and resident doctor at MyHealthChecked, emphasizes that the body's immune response makes us more susceptible to the common cold and respiratory infections in winter. Children, with fewer antibodies and less mature immune systems, play a crucial role in transmitting infections.

Currently, three main viruses are affecting people – flu, the JN.1 variant of COVID-19, and rhinovirus. The return to school after the Christmas holidays often coincides with a rise in respiratory illnesses among children.

If you feel like you're dealing with recurring colds or illnesses, Dr. Hana suggests it's likely different viruses attacking your immune system. While the pandemic has changed behaviors, she attributes the increased incidence to exposure to multiple viruses rather than lingering immunity issues.

Factors increasing the risk of getting a cold include pre-existing medical conditions, low immunity (such as in diabetes), poor health habits, and close contact with infected individuals. Winter conditions, with indoor gatherings and low humidity from heating, also contribute to the spread of germs.

To prevent colds and boost immunity, Dr. Patel recommends maintaining a balanced diet, regular exercise, avoiding smoking and excess alcohol, practicing good hand hygiene, and getting recommended vaccines. Importantly, unnecessary antibiotic use should be avoided to prevent bacterial resistance.

For guidance on dealing with colds, COVID-19, or the flu, refer to NHS recommendations.

Source: Office for National Statistics (ONS) Image: Freepik.com

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